Walker Hill Group

Phrase Match ‘Intent’ Mixup

Content Summary

With Google’s new introduction to AI and pushing on machine learning optimisations, we have seen some great evolvements, but we are starting to see ‘more bad for every good’. Marketing enthusiasts will have noticed Google relaxing on its phrase match definitions. Here is our take on how to stay on top of these rapid changes so your ads don’t get shakier than a magnitude 8.0 earthquake.


Let’s be practical with this. If I am searching for, say, ‘roofer near me’, I am looking for a roofer near me. But if you’ve been closely monitoring your search term reports, you’ll probably have noticed that near-me terms (and others) have turned into competitor terms. So when my keyword is ‘roofer near me’, I’ll start showing for Billy Bobs Roofing Services.


We believe that as Google is pushing heavier towards broad match terms, machine learning, and their new AI features, we are seeing Google take more initiative in trying to understand the ‘search intent’ behind what someone is searching. Therefore, if your keyword is ‘roofing companies’, Google can confuse the intent behind this keyword as someone searching for specific roofing companies, which is where Billy Bobs Roofing Services says hello again.

How to save yourself:

We’ve gone from Broad-Match Modified keywords, then were forced to move to Phrase, and now phrase match is becoming more broad with the example above. Honestly, folks, our backs are up against the wall, and it’s time to start utilising exact match keywords! But before you start going wild like a chicken who’s just seen a snake, we aren’t suggesting changing everything to an exact match. 

The best plan of action is to keep a close eye on your search terms, and when you notice they are getting broad, start switching them to exact match. Pre-emptively, here are some common keyword types that we are now changing to exact match:

  1. Near me keywords (e.g, plumber near me)
  2. Companies keywords (e.g, removal companies)
  3. Keywords that could have a double intent (e.g. modern kitchen splashbacks. This could be someone looking for inspiration or someone looking for leading splashback specialists).

⚠️ Further Caution ⚠️

Some further observations have led us to believe you should be cautious with two-word phrase match keywords (e.g., modern architect). Remember, Google will add whatever they think would fit, so the fewer words your keyword has, the more random your terms could be. For this, it’s not a bad idea to consider running keywords with two or fewer words as exact match and phrase match with 3+ words.

Saving Yourself

If you’re seeing this happening in your account, here’s what you can do:

  1. Be detailed in your negative keywords. This could take a couple of weeks (depending on your budget), but be as detailed as you can and add EVERYTHING that’s irrelevant. For example, if the term is ‘architect salary in Brisbane for students’, make sure you add the negatives of “salary” and “students”, and kill 2 birds with 1 stone.
  2. Adding exact match keywords. Sub out your rogue phrase match keyword for an exact match variant. 
  3. Put yourself in Google’s shoes. Look at your keywords from Google’s point of view. If you can find ways that Google can misinterpret your keyword intent, you better bet they will!
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